After a brilliant 2019 campaign, culminating in a World Series title with the Washington Nationals, the Tampa Bay Rays are reportedly front-runners to ink a deal with free-agent Howie Kendrick. The Cincinnati Reds, another team connected to Kendrick, no longer seems likely to sign him.
Kendrick has been a quality hitter since his big-league career began with the Los Angeles Angels in 2006, posting a career .294 BA/.337 OBP/.431 SLG/.768 OPS/.333 wOBA slash line. Although he is coming off his best offensive campaign, hitting a fantastic .344 BA/.395 OBP/.572 SLG/.967 OPS/.400 wOBA line and a career-best 146 wRC+ with 17 home runs across 370 plate appearances. Kendrick’s heroics continued throughout the playoffs when he hit a pair of critical home runs that helped propel the Nationals to a championship.
While a surge in power is rare for a 36-year-old player it was not wholly unexpected from Kendrick, whose ISO ramped up from .111 in 2016 to .161 the following season, .171 in 2018, and finally .228 last season. Meanwhile, his walk rate jumped from a career 5.4% to 7.3% and he reduced his strikeout rate from an already above-average 17.2% to a career-low 13.2% last season. In addition, Kendrick’s 91.6 mph average exit velocity — which was up from 88.2 mph in 2018 — ranked one spot behind Yandy Diaz.
There is a reason to believe that even with a regression closer to his 2017/18 production levels, Kendrick will again be productive in 2020. Fangraphs’ Steamer Projection System forecasts an above-average a .299 BA/.354 OBP/.478 SLG/.832 OPS line with a 117 wRC+.
Kendrick is likely better equipped for an American League team like the Rays, with whom he’d serve as a platoon first baseman or DH. He also still has enough defensive versatility to see time at second and third base. MLB Trade Rumors that he will land a two-year, $12-million contract.